SPIN is pleased to announce the start of a new project on ignorance and UK criminal justice. From October, Dr. Chloe Peacock will join SPIN and the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS) at the University of Bristol as an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, exploring how ignorance framed criminal justice and social policy responses to the 2011 English ‘riots’.
Dr. Peacock’s doctoral research drew on original qualitative interviews conducted in 2018 with prosecutors, sentencers and policymakers who were responsible for designing and delivering the swift and strikingly harsh penal response to the unrest, and longer-term policy projects targeting ‘troubled families’ and ‘gang culture’, which disproportionately targeted young people from marginalised backgrounds. Using a critical discourse analysis approach, her thesis showed how four interlocking and overlapping kinds of ignorance – dehistoricised and decontextualised understandings of crime, distorted, racialised and classed imaginations of criminality, highly selective imaginations of public opinion, and denial of the racialised and classed harms of punishment – worked together to allow criminal justice professionals to frame their reaction to the unrest as proportionate, necessary and fair, and more broadly to justify the punitive and discriminatory aspects of the system within which they work.
While scholars have long since alerted us to the crucial importance of deception, misinformation and mystification as powerful social, cultural and political forces, work on this theme has accelerated in recent years, coalescing around the notion of agnotology as the study of ignorance and its crucial social and political functions; emphasising the vital role of ‘strategic unknowns’ or ‘orchestrated ignorance’ in shaping punitive social policy agendas and, to a lesser extent, criminal justice policy and practice. This fellowship and project enables Peacock to make a significant contribution to this academic endeavour by exploring how ignorance, broadly conceived, shapes contemporary criminal justice policy and practice in the UK; and in particular, normalises and naturalises the well-documented overrepresentation of racialised and marginalised communities in the criminal justice system. In doing so, it will advance current scholarship on the multifaceted role of denial, amnesia, silence and secrecy in maintaining and legitimising the policies and practices of the UK criminal justice system.
Dr. Peacock’s PhD was in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths. She’ll be joining Bristol from the University of Manchester, where she has been working on a project on cultural activism around statues at the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE).